Friday, October 29, 2010

Film Circuit Summary 2010

OK, gang. Here is what I think of the thirty-nine films I saw in September.

You can download a three-page summary if you want a print version. Links go to a description if available. You can also scroll down the page to see my initial reaction to the film and, in some cases, listen to some of the Q & A from the directors.

YES: Movies that should go over well with our audience:
  1. The Way: By Emilio Esteves and starring his father, Martin Sheen. Excellent. Very moving about walkers on the Trail of Pilgrims in Spain. (Would have been good to show with Sticky Fingers a Quebecois movie with Roy Dupuis ... a hilarious farce ... which was at Sudbury last year. But it’s on DVD already.) Emilio's movie was touching and had well-defined and not necessarily archetypical characters. A bit heavy-handed on the religion at the end.
  2. Rabbit Hole: Nicole Kidman produced this incredibly engrossing and believable film about a young couple dealing with the death of their son. The story is told in scenes that reveal a little bit more about each of the characters and how they handle stress. Based on a stage play with a screenplay written by the playwright. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart are superb. The ending scenes are beautifully shot and a perfect resolution for both main characters.
  3. Buried: This has already opened but it will not likely make it to Owen Sound. I can’t quite figure if it’s worth putting here or not but this is a movie unlike any other you’ve ever seen. How can a movie that takes place inside a box have the most inventive cinematography? When you build several versions of the box as the director did for this one. Ryan Reynolds is outstanding as the buried truck driver in Iraq. It was impossible to take a breath as the story was told in real time. As the final minutes unfold, there was a hush in the audience. Not for the claustrophobic.
  4. Blue Valentine: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are outstanding as a couple in a rocky marriage. Flashbacks show them in happier times. Well-acted and thoroughly riveting portrayals. It might open here but I doubt it. It has more of an indie feel.
  5. Three: German film from the directory of “Run, Lola, Run.” This film might or might not work for our audience. Hard to tell. Could be too long but it was never boring. Excellent story. Well-acted and believable. A husband and wife have an affair with the same man and keep it a secret from each other. Lots of laughs and lots of twists in the story keep the audience guessing.
  6. High Cost of Living: Not your ordinary movie. Zach Braff and Isabelle Blais are outstanding in this film about a car accident that brings them together: he, a drug dealer in Montreal, she, eight months pregnant with a neglectful husband. It won’t open in Owen Sound. Guaranteed.
  7. Even the Rain: Spanish film shot in Bolivia. The plot: It is early in 2000 during the protests in Bolivia in response to the the government’s decision to privatize the water company. A filmmaker is making a film about Columbus’s first voyage to the New World. Sounds complicated. But it isn’t. Very captivating story, this film makes parallels between the film makers’ use of extras for their movie, the water company’s treatment of the peasants, and exploitations past and present.
  8. Armadillo: Great photography and great access to what goes on in Afghanistan, this documentary about a group of Danish soldiers is unflinching in its portrayal of a seemingly unwinnable conflict. Hard to believe it was a documentary because its story arc seems “written."
  9. Repeaters: By the director of Cole. A glorious premise: the same day keeps repeating itself until the three main characters “get it right.” It falters a bit in the middle when there are just a few too many repetitive days that don’t further the plot that much and Richard de Klerk hasn’t quite thrown off enough of his Cole persona to be believed as the out-of-control psychopath — but the final scenes are enough to forgive these lapses.
  10. Conviction: I’m surprised it hasn’t shown up here yet. “Based on the inspirational life of Betty Anne Waters, Conviction tells the story of the unstoppable love between a brother and sister and the lengths to which one woman will go to save her family.” And it works. With Hilary Swank as star (& producer). This film didn’t get as good reviews as I would have expected. Minnie Driver is good in it too. Perhaps a bit pedantic at the end but I still bought into the (true) story for the entire movie.
  11. Route Irish: Another Ken Loach winner. But then, I have always loved all of his movies. Excellent characters. Engrossing story. I could even figure out when the story was in flashback. Bitter ending.
    What a way to finish the 35 films in Toronto.
  12. Small Town Murder Songs: I have to admit that I slept through part of this film and had to watch it from the front row — not ideal conditions; however, what I saw were earnest characterizations by the actors. I would like to see it again in a more comfortable screening position. Jackie Burroughs is wonderful in one of her last film performances. Music by Bruce Peninsula. Would do well with our audience and we might even be able to convince the director to come to the screening. Filmed in Hanover and Listowel.

    Addendum afer second (complete) screening:

    As I said, it's much better sitting a bit farther back and you have to be awake for the whole movie to get the plot. We had it at our OS Reel Festival in January 2011 and it was well worth seeing, though not your traditional story-telling movie. Use of locale was evident -- it was meant to be set in Canada and didn't pretend to be elsewhere.

MAYBE: Movies that might not go over well for one reason or another:
  1. Behind Blue Skies: ... a bit dense ... a coming of age story ... long but not unwatchable. Swedish film that started out as a coming-of-age movie and became something more. Apparently based on a true scandal that happened in the seventies in Sweden. Crimes and misdemeanors in cottage country.
  2. Amazon Falls: Canadian. Perhaps could have been “Sunset Boulevard” but was just shy of the mark. Quite interesting story but the actors didn’t have time to develop their characters and left us with a flat performance. Unnecessary and extraneous plot bits. Plagues of Job visited on an aging actress in Hollywood. I kept waiting for the actress to say “I’m ready for you now, Mr. de Mille.”
  3. Beginners: Director didn’t tell enough of the story to help us understand the plot. Flashbacks disconnected. The actions goes back and forth in time enough to make your head spin. I had no idea that some of the scenes were flashbacks to childhood till it was too late to care. Disorienting. Apparently the director based this on his own life but he assumed we knew more than he was willing to tell us.
  4. Cool It: Documentary about global warming that was produced/funded by the subject of the movie. A bit disingenuous. Thought provoking film that was badly advertised and misrepresented as a movie which took exception with An Inconvenient Truth and global warming — viz., the title — but was no such thing.
  5. Potiche: I loved it but I’m not sure our audience would agree. Potiche is the French word for “vase” ... or in the case of a “femme potich” we would label it a “trophy wife.” That’s what this film is about and if you like Francois Ozon’s films you’ll love this one. It’s told in his trademark stylized way. But the best thing in the film is Catherine Deneuve as the trophy wife and if you love her, you’ll also love this film. The story might seem to be a light comedy but there is a feminist streak which keeps it from being overly frothy. Lots of laughs and Deneuve is excellent eye-candy throughout.
  6. Bang Bang Club: Canadian film that’s not terrible but there is too much story. Characters that look too much alike. Supposedly many of the extras are re- creating what they did during the civil war in South Africa before the end of apartheid. More time was spent on the re-creations than on character development so that, in the end, it’s impossible to connect with any of the main characters. The story of how it was made is a good story too. Unfortunately you need the producer there to tell it because it’s not up on the screen.
  7. Whistleblower: Canadian film that is the harrowing (true) story about sex trafficking in post-war Bosnia and the UN peace-keeper who brought the story of UN officers’ part in it. For some reason, it’s not as engaging as it might have been. Rachel Weisz doesn’t engender any sympathy but comes off as an earnest and bull-headed protagonist.
  8. Casino Jack: Kevin Spacey is great in this role but the complicated back room deals are not that interesting to watch -- unless you're addicted to TV Shows like "The Apprentice" or "Survivor."

NO: Movies that are not suitable for one reason or another:
  1. Guest: ... too obscure. Documentary with its moments. A documentary not for everyone. Gave us portrait(s) of people who would not ordinarily be given a chance to talk. Certain scenes were head- scratch inducing but it was fascinating when it showed ordinary people doing ordinary things talking about their lives.
  2. Stone: has already opened to mediocre/poor reviews. I agree. Excellent actors in search of a plausible script. Each actor seemed to be in his or her own movie. No connection between them. Robert De Niro phoned in his part.
  3. The Conspirator: Much like watching Madame Tussaud’s waxworks come to life. About Lincoln’s assassination plotters. Pedantic script. Re-creation of what happened after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Waxworks actors quoting “authentic" lines from history. Good for schools perhaps, though the kids would be bored to tears no doubt.
  4. SUPER: So good. Totally improper and offensive but oh, so funny. Superhero with a wrench. Not your normal super-hero but someone who decides to take the law into his own hands, using a tool he finds at hand. Later he is joined by an equally psycho partner. Rain Wilson (of Six Feet Under fame) and Ellen Page are perfectly cast. Not for the squeamish, however.
  5. Outside the Law: Historical but too earnest. Billed as “sweeping, dramatic and grand in scale” this film tries to be everything to everyone but characterizations are lost in the action which overtakes them. Another of the many recreations of true events at this festival that struggle to put a human face on history and end up burying the people in the stereotypical roles.
  6. Little White Lies: French version of The Big Chill had too many characters and too many intertwining stories in a two-hour-long film. Too long and might have been better if some of the stories could have been omitted — especially the unbelievable gay story- line which seemed to be included just for laughs.
  7. Heartbeats: Second film by Xavier Dolan of I Killed My Mother. He didn’t have enough script to fill up the full hour and a half so he shot a lot of the scenes in slow-motion to make them last a bit longer. Boring characters who are full of themselves. Like his earlier movie, this one is tedious to sit through — although it does have a satisfying ending.
  8. Amigo: This is the story of the American takeover of the Philippines around 1900. Amateur actors and professionals interact in stagey scenes. John Sayles was proud to tell us that many of the extras were able to re-create the farming duties of the past because they still knew how to do it. Verisimilitude does not always make for great movies.
  9. Blessed Events: She has a one-night stand on New Year’s Eve and when she runs into the man again and tells him that she’s pregnant he decides he should marry her. Boring story. Unappealing characters. A waste of time. (The second worst movie in my collection.)
  10. Cave of Forgotten Dreams: I don’t imagine we could get a 3-D movie and without 3-D this isn’t a movie worth seeing but in 3-D it is absolutely mesmerizing. Looks at drawings in the Chauvet- Pont-d’Arc cave, created more than thirty thousand years ago. Since no one except archeologists are allowed in, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the drawings on the curved walls of the cave — made all the more real by the 3-D cinematography.
  11. Kaboom: Billed as “outrageously over-the-top” this film went right over my head. I can’t remember too much of the complicated plot and won’t spend much time trying to think back on it.
  12. Black Ocean: The story of three sailorstaking part in nuclear tests over the Pacific Ocean in 1972, this film is too long and too boring with too many long pauses of uninteresting silence. The sailors were supposed to be questioning what they were doing but I didn’t see it.
  13. Jaloux: "This tight psychological thriller was improvised during its sixteen-day shoot by Demers and his cast” according to the write-up on the TIFF website. Unfortunately the director did the editing himself and makes a mess of a good story. He might have had a better movie if he’d left some of the improvisations on the cutting room floor.

NOT LIKELY: Movies that will probably open wide anyway (or have already):
  1. The King's Speech: Oscar contender. Opening in November. True story of King George VI overcoming stuttering with the help of an Australian Henry Higgins. Absolutely compelling and flawless performances by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.
  2. Easy A: Super movie. Already come and gone from Owen Sound. Perfectly plotted, acted, and designed. Even the opening credits were uniquely handled as were the closing credits. Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as the parents were superb.
  3. 127 Hours: James Franco is magnificent. True story holds your attention even though you know the outcome. Parts almost unwatchable. Should get an award of some kind. Danny Boyle gives us a gripping story and James Franco gives us a believable role. We know what’s going to happen but that doesn’t mean we’re not held in suspense. Perhaps it’s horrendous to watch but it only lasts for one-tenth the time it happened in real life. True story well-told.